Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Hen on Canvas

{Paintings from my Pagan Idols Series}

When I was in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Mongolia. I ate lots of mutton, rode ponies across the steppe, met one of my best friends in life, got a little chubby, and studied traditional Mongolian thangka painting with an Buddhist ex-nun. It was pretty rad.

Thangkas are painted or embroidered depictions of Buddhist deities, and I spent a month and a half painting two of them in a warehouse studio in Ulaanbaatar under the tutelage of my incredible teacher. I'll save the thangkas for another post, but I had to introduce the chicken paintings by way of the thangka tidbit. Let me explain.
I got back from Mongolia with two giant scrolls I made depicting these super-stylized, religious deities. I had a studio thesis to commence and I had lost all interest in my original thesis proposal, but I didn't know how to translate the thangka experience into something fresh and meaningful for a new body of work. My thesis advisor said something that I turn to often even now: PAINT WHAT YOU KNOW. What do I know? Chickens. I know chickens. I love chickens.
My mom collected rare breeds on our farm when I was growing up, and chickens featured prominently in my childhood the way Barbies do in other girls' childhoods; each individual was glamorously different from the next, we dressed them up, and they made for good company at tea parties. Plus, they laid eggs. So, dear reader, I did my senior thesis on chickens.

I joined the American Poultry Association, traveled around Massachusetts taking photographs of rare breeds, interviewed a taxidermist, and began stretching really big canvases. I used the basic tenets of thangka painting- figure floating in space, brilliant color, etc- and applied them to my oversized flamboyant birds. I thought of the paintings as my own personal thangkas; I was creating my own pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses.

Eventually the solid backgrounds got a little repetitious, so I researched early American textiles and began painting ridiculous patterns behind the birds, playing on the association of chickens with domesticity. And, by extension, my growing up in a house of five women, on a farm, where we we raised with Victorian manners but at the same time mucked stalls and drove tractors since we didn't have brothers. I thought of the chickens as emblems of complex American ideals: wildness vs. domesticity, the idea of femininity, the preservation of beauty, the legacy of Audubon, etc.
Anywho, these are my chickens. They are all oil on canvas, and roughly 42 x 54 in. You can see more of them on my website in the gallery called Pollo.

9 comments:

  1. i feel so lucky to own one of these!!!

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  2. "Thang-ka" for posting them all together!!! ha ha ha
    I crack myself up. (must be getting late...)

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  3. DIMENSIONS! these are beautiful works, and I really love the addition of the patterns in the later ones (they add to the impression of deifying the chickens), but as a fellow artist I always want to know: how big are they? what materials did you use?

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  4. Thanks for the *very* flattering comments! The chickens are all oil on canvas, and roughly 42 x 54 inches. Anywhere I can see your work Carolyn? xo!

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  5. Stocks, the one with the purple background is TO DIE FOR!! Having so much fun scrolling through all of this, thanks for sharing!! xxxxx

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  6. I ADORE these paintings, by the way. I checked out your website after we ran into you guys outside of Mt. Fuji, and then saw that you were a "follower" of Karine's Blog, and so hello! We need to get together soon. Are you going to the Taste of Morongo tomorrow night, or perhaps to Chantale's Bistro Escondido dinner on the 26th?

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  7. We are house-sitting for a friend this week who has 30 chickens, so these paintings are very dear to my heart at this moment!

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  8. CHICKENS!!! Chickens chickens chickens!!!!

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